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This week The Alchemist pulls on his rubber boots and gloves and muses on the electrical conductivity of water, reports a solar record for perovskites, pictures a super fuel that could fill your tank in seconds instead of minutes, is astounded by just how much "stuff" we have, and spots a double negative in Einstein's theory as applied to metal compounds. Finally, IUPAC tidies up the admin on four recently discovered elements, giving them their official names and updating the Periodic Table.

Exactly how does water conduct electricity? A spectroscopic study by a team at Yale University focuses on the transport of protons from water molecule to the next as it carries a current. Scientists have speculated for at least two centuries as to what specific forces are at work in the Grotthuss mechanism that allows water to conduct electricity. The team has developed a way to fast-freeze the chemical process so that they can take a snapshot of the transient structures that are present as atoms contort within the fleeting hydrogen bond networks that form between water molecules. The new insights could be used to optimize alternative energy technologies and even the development of pharmaceuticals.

The highest efficiency rating with the largest perovskite solar cells to date has been achieved by Anita Ho-Baillie, of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) and her colleagues. Perovskites are flexible, cheap to produce and simple to make, according to the team and so represent an important new substrate for a wide range of applications, including solar power. The new cell is at least 10 times bigger than the current certified high-efficiency perovskite solar cells on record at 16 square centimeters. Its efficiency is 12.1%.

Yang Zhang of NPRE Illinois and his team may have overturned a decades-old theory in the petrochemical industry by showing the viscosity of liquid alkanes can be changed to flow thirty times faster. The discovery could revolutionize the pipeline transport of oil and other products and making filling your vehicle's fuel tank and almost instantaneous process. In the late 1940s, Walter Kauzmann and Henry Eyring predicted that all alkanes would have a universal viscosity near their melting points. However, it was quickly noticed that there is a difference between odd and even numbered alkanes in terms of density and melting points. Zhang has demonstrated that this odd-even effect can be carried over from solid to liquid and that the original theory over-simplified the picture of alkane properties.

Some pundits suggest that we are living through the Anthropocene, a geological epoch during which humanity is creating a layer of material and having a global geographic impact on the planet that will be seen by pundits of the far distant future as akin to natural epochs in which boundary layers are formed. Now, researchers at the University of Leicester have estimated just how much stuff - whether buildings, roads, trains, solar panels, oil pumps, cars, smart phones, plastic bags and everything else we have fabricated - we have on planet Earth. It amounts to some 30 trillion tons of material including all the waste and landfill. This is a troubling thought for many given the unsustainability of our endeavors and limited resources.

X-ray methods have been used to demonstrate the existence of the first intermetallic double salt containing the noble metal, platinum. The substance, cesium platinide hydride, exists as translucent ruby red crystals but persists only under an inert atmosphere. It contains a negative metal ion and its existence relies on the strong influence of relativistic effects on both cesium and platinum wherein the high speed of electrons is a large fraction of the speed of light and so Einstein's theory must be accommodated in the computational model to explain the nature of the structure.

To paraphrase the great songsmith Tom Lehrer, there were certainly many others of which the news hadn't come to Harvaaard... until recently at least. Now, the four elements previously known by esoteric, systematic names have been, after chemical consultation, dubbed with their official monikers: nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, respectively. Chemical nomenclature is governed across the globe by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). "Keeping with tradition, the newly discovered elements have been named after a place or geographical region, or a scientist. The ending of the names also reflects and maintains historical and chemical consistency: "-ium" for elements 113 and 115 and as for all new elements of groups 1 to 16, "-ine" for element 117 and belonging to group 17 and "-on" for element 118 element belonging to group 18," IUPAC reports in its announcement on the new elemental names.